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Angel Di Maria leaves Man Utd for PSG: Why did it go wrong?


Where did it all go wrong for Manchester United’s club record signing Angel Di Maria? We look back at the Argentine’s season of frustration as he edges closer to a move to Paris Saint-Germain.

It was perhaps understandable why Juan Mata’s crisp strike against Liverpool at Anfield would win Manchester United’s goal of the season award. But in objective terms, the sheer brilliance of Angel Di Maria’s dinked finish against Leicester in September was unsurpassed.

In his Telegraph column, Sky Sports’ Gary Neville described it as “an example of everything I expected Di Maria to bring to the Premier League - pace, audacity and a moment of magic capable of turning a game”. That United lost 5-3 seemed to sum up Di Maria’s year.

There were the well-documented off-field issues. A burglary at his home didn’t help - “he was worried about his wife and child,” said Louis van Gaal – as well as the more predictable language problems. Others pointed to the trauma of leaving Real Madrid against his wishes.

Di Maria poised for PSG medical
Di Maria poised for PSG medical

Angel di Maria is set to undergo a medical before joining Paris Saint-Germain.

Di Maria was entitled to be confused. His final game for Real was a man-of-the-match display as the club secured La Decima against rivals Atletico in the Champions League final in Lisbon. It was a sensational performance by a player who’d fused quality with commitment.

Despite the assembled talent on the pitch that evening, he completed twice as many dribbles as any other player and produced three times as many accurate crosses. Only defender Sergio Ramos made more interceptions. A giant with and without the ball.

Image: Di Maria’s average position in his last full 90 minutes for Man Utd v Burnley contrasts with his 2014 Champions League final role

Neville added: “I had seen Di Maria play for Real Madrid, watched as he was their best player in the Champions League final last May, and saw him as the addition to the United squad who would deliver the pace, impetus and the ability to change the speed of a game.

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I had no thoughts whatsoever that his signing was a risk. I just believed he would come into the team and light the place up.
Gary Neville on Angel Di Maria

“I had no thoughts whatsoever that his signing was a risk. I just believed he would come into the team and light the place up.” He spoke for many but perhaps expectations were too high. Di Maria was not used to carrying the burden of a fledgling team on his shoulders.

At Real, the majority of the 18-man Champions League final squad had cost more money in transfer fees. Di Maria had accepted a workmanlike role and been able to go under the radar. Even so, his numbers at United suggest any disappointment should be tempered.

The Argentine provided more assists than anyone in Europe’s major leagues in his final season in Madrid but only Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla managed more than his tally of 10 in the Premier League last season. Remarkable given that he started only 20 matches.

Image: Only Cesc Fabregas could compare with Di Maria among players with 10 assists or more in the Premier League in 2014/15

Di Maria assisted a Premier League goal every 164 minutes, a record bettered only by Fabregas, and created 2.85 chances per game – down from 3.41 in his last year at Real but still an impressive testament to his ability to make things happen.

And yet, Di Maria’s off-the-cuff style didn’t necessarily mesh well with Van Gaal’s demands. The Dutchman is famed for challenging players and there is a long history of younger charges embracing his approach more enthusiastically than those who’ve already achieved it all.

There were key moments when Di Maria fell short. The methodical Van Gaal showed signs of becoming discouraged by his unreliability after a draw at West Ham in February and a defensively irresponsible FA Cup performance against Arsenal tested his patience further.

Angel di Maria shows his frustration
Image: Di Maria was sent off in Manchester United's FA Cup tie clash against Arsenal last season

“He can’t say he’s had a marvellous season here,” said Van Gaal. “You have to adapt to our philosophy and that’s also difficult for him, probably. Di Maria has to adapt to the English rhythm of the game. That's a high standard and a big difference with other countries.”

Not that the United boss can be exempt from blame. It was the 63-year-old who agreed to such an expensive signing and by his own admission that brings an element of responsibility. “You cannot give a lot of money for a player and next season put him out of your selection.”

There were times when Di Maria was not used as effectively as he could have been. The penetrative runs from deep that Neville had so anticipated weren’t possible when played in an advanced role – notably against Southampton when he was left stranded up the field.

For that reason, Di Maria’s departure is a frustration for United fans. Van Gaal could not find the answers, and yet the player’s ability was never in question. Few will be surprised if he succeeds at Paris St Germain. And that only increases the pressure on United without him.

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